Sunday, September 29, 2019

Raw & Uncut: 1945 Rikishi 5 (R451) Sumo Wrestling Menko Sheet

Well, technically these menko cards have been perforated so are cut a little, but they haven't been popped out of the sheet yet.  This set that I have catalogued as the R451: 1945 Rikishi 5 set is not impossible to find surprisingly...or at least in recent years I have picked up a decent amount and have given it a "Rare" Availability Rating.  However, what makes this menko sheet so unique is not from the fact that they are uncut, but the fact that they are from 1945 and printed a little less than three months after the war officially ended in Japan.  You have heard me talk before about how ravaged the economy of Japan was during the war and for many years after.  Paper was in short supply, food was scarce, and rampant inflation and black markets sprung up all over the country.  Again, the fact that a sheet of these menko were printed and the fact that it still exists is amazing.  This set and sheet, I believe, does give us some clues to the origin.  First, the top of the sheet says "Sample Sumo Menko" which leads me to believe that maybe it survived because it was more of a salesman sample and not intended for sale.  Maybe the salesman was giving these away to drum up business.  It is pristine shape and so it must have been tucked away somewhere safe for 75 years.  Second, the back has light green ink.  I also have catalogued light blue ink and light grey ink versions which leads me to believe they were printed in different places or printed in mass quantities which led them to using different inks, basically anything they had which might explain why I have seen so many of them.  Lastly, the design, colors, and production quality is top notch leading me to believe it was made by one of the larger companies...possibly one that survived the war intact; likely Kagome Toys.  If only menko could talk....

Enjoy your week and stay safe! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Bruce Lee is defeated! 1974 Japanese Yamakatsu "Enter The Dragon" set is complete!

Finally, after at least close to 5 years....maybe longer...I have completed the 1974 Japanese Yamakatsu "Enter the Dragon" set and that is no joke.  For the past couple of years, I have been struggling to find the last two cards at the right price, but they popped up in a few auctions and I pulled the trigger.  Such a relief to have this Series 1 set complete.  For those that aren't familiar with this 144-card set, it is broken up into three series based on the Enter the Dragon and The Way of the Dragon movies and Green Hornet TV series as follows:

Cards #1-48 - Series 1: Enter the Dragon
Cards #49-96 - Series 2: The Way of the Dragon (with Chuck Norris)
Cards #97-144 - Series 3: The Green Hornet TV Series

All three Series get progressively harder to find and complete  Series 1 is the easiest and Series 3 is the hardest, and most expensive.

Here are all 48 cards in their glory!

Now off to tackle the last nine cards in Series 2!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

1960s Japanese Yukata Bolt & Card - Yokozuna Taiho

If you were a kid in the 1990s, you were likely decked out in denim.  This versatile fabric adorned rocks stars, high school kids, cowboys, and politicians.  There is probably no single fabric that identifies America better than denim.  In the 1960s, if you wanted to part of the "in" crowd in Japan, you covered yourself in a beautiful cotton indigo-print yukata during the summer time.  This style of yukata was seen all over Japan during this time and celebrities helped to promote and sell this fabric to the masses.  Being a necessary outfit for sumo wrestlers, they were part of the leading edge of this trend.  The great Yokozuna Taiho, as the face of sumo wrestling, was sought after by the major companies and to help sell the product they often included a photo card showing how the indigo print would look as worn.  I recently picked up this yukata bolt with one of Taiho's cards attached.  Yukata bolts are 100% pure cotton bulk fabric and the purchaser would then have to seam, hem, and sew to make the actual yukata.  Thousands of different patterns were produced so I am not sure what you would call this one, but it has a beautiful deep blue square "barbed wire" pattern with light grey cross hatching behind. This bolt has the "Main Dying Excellence Certificate" which looks like it was the quality seal given out by the company.  My fascination with these yukata/card combinations continues. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

What is Rare? - 1937 Sumo Menko Edition

Japanese card collecting is still somewhat of a novelty outside of Japan.  Even within its borders, Japan has not produced a comprehensive guide to collecting older sports cards, nor does it have a catalog to capture set checklists.  Doing so has mainly been a non-Japanese endeavor.  The two tomes that try to conglomerate this information are the Japanese Baseball Card Checklist and Price Guide (by Engel) and my Sumo Menko and Card Checklist.  One interesting and useful bit of information is what Engel calls the "Scarcity Factor" and what I've called the "Availability Rating".  Our goal is to try and give readers/collectors an idea of how hard some of these cards/sets are to find.  Engel's approach is to try and estimate how many cards in a particular set are still in existence.  Here is Engel's Scarcity Factor scale applied to each baseball set:

NS (not scarce)--More than 1,000 copies known of most cards.
R1--between 250 and 1,000 copies known of most cards.
R2--between 100 and 249 copies known of most cards.
R3--between 11 and 99 copies known of most cards.
R4--between 5 and 10 copies known of most cards.
R5--5 or fewer copies known of most cards

My approach is from a slightly different angle and I have calculated/estimated/guessed how hard it would be to find a sumo menko/card if you wanted to go out and purchase one today.  My scale is from an auction or purchasing point of view and basically how long it would take for one to pop up at auction if you were looking today.  He is my Availability Rating scale applied to each sumo set:

Common - Menko from this set are easy to obtain, available every month or two.
Scarce - Menko from this set show up from time to time, available a few times a year.
Rare - Menko from this set are hard to come by, available only once every few years.
Extremely Rare - Menko from this set are almost impossible to find, available only a few times in a lifetime.

Here are menko from the Extremely Rare R378: 1937 Rikishi Gunbai 5 set.  In almost 20 years of searching, here are the only 4 menko that have showed up while searching.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Paper Sumo Wrestling - 1930s Version

Menko have always been viewed as toys rather than collectibles by most Japanese.  They were meant to be played with, destroyed, and thrown away with very little concern for value, longevity, and collectability.  As such, a good amount of the 1930s menko that I run across have been well used and loved.  That is okay with me as the stories the menko could tell/do tell are what helps drive me in the menko hobby.  One very popular game that kids would play with menko is called kami-zumo, or paper sumo.  In a nutshell, paper sumo wrestlers are placed on a board and then that board is tapped which vibrates the wrestlers moving them around the ring.  The paper wrestlers eventually tangle themselves and knock each other over.  Last one standing wins.  Check out this 15-second video to give you a quick idea:

In the 1930s, this game seemed to be all the rage as I have dozens and dozens of R-series menko that were cut along the bottom and along their arms to allow them to stand and engage in paper sumo.  Here are three such examples from the R392-2: 1939 Rikishi 4-5-6 set.

You can see all the cut marks (two rikishi lost their left arm in battle, yikes).  Here is what they look like stood up:

Good luck to all the wrestlers that are competing this tournament.  It'll be an exciting 15 days for sure.  Sayonara!!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Scratch-&-Sniff: Japanese Sumo Wrestling Style

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, BBM was doing some cool things with their sets and insert sets that were somewhat "revolutionary" for their least for sumo wrestling cards.  One item that seemed to be most unique were the aroma cards that smelled of bintsuke.  For those new to the sumo wrestling world, bintsuke is a hair oil/wax that wrestlers (actually, geisha use it too) have put in their hair when they are getting it styled.  It has a sweet smell and helps give the wrestlers that sheen as well as helps stiffen the hair to allow hairdressers to style it without it falling down.  Once you smell it, you'll instantly recognize it at any time in the future and it is a smell synonymous with sumo wrestling.  In 1998 BBM decided to put small patches of thin felt on a 6-card insert set (see below) and put a bit of bintsuke on them to create the "Smell of Bintsuke".  A really cool idea that is somewhat unique among trading cards, especially in Japan.  Unfortunately, 20 years later the aroma on most of these insert cards has long disappeared, but the thought that BBM was once edgy and cutting edge lingers on.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

1962 Japanese Star Playing Cards - Baseball & Sumo Wrestling

This is a set I have been eying for a while having missed out on it many years ago.  Another one popped up recently and I quickly snagged it as you don't see them often.  This set is from late 1962 and features circular playing cards with famous actors, actresses, singers, and sports stars.  Issued in a children's magazine as a promotional item likely for the New Year's magazines that came out in December or early January, these types of sets were common throughout the 1950s and 1960s.   Heck, there are even a few American actors in the set namely Vincent Edwards and Harry Mills and the famous Japanese singer, Kyu Sakamoto, who died in the deadliest single plane accident in history: Japan Airlines Flight 123.

Representing the sumo wrestling community is Yokozuna Taiho who was on his meteoric rise to stardom in 1962.  Three Japanese baseball players garnered cards in this set: Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima, and Yukio Osaki.  Osaki seemed like and odd choice to include in the set, but if you look at his performance in 1962, he was Rookie of the year and his team, the Toei Flyers, went on to win the Japan Series so he was a bright star in late 1962.  A lot of people had high hopes for him, but he eventually faded away not achieving his expected greatness.

Not a lot of people chase these oddball issues, but I love the thrill of the chase and finding these obscure sets that help build the sumo wrestling card repository.